Andy McDermott: The World of Thriller Writing

Report by Lisa Nightingale.

It was whilst writing film reviews for hugely successful entertainment magazines that Andy McDermott, casual and unassuming best-selling thriller writer became inspired to take the risk of giving up his career to become a writer. “I was tired of writing about other people’s achievements” he said. To the tune of ‘you’ll be writing the review of Trisha’ from his colleagues his motivation was not to return to his employer cap in hand to beg for a return to his job. The writing had to work.

Initially, he began writing anything from ghost stories to comedies in search of his writing voice. This, he found more by accident than design with an almost successful submission of an action thriller. Unfortunately, it fell at the last hurdle and was rejected.

Undefeated, Andy went back to his ghost stories. He was pressed for another thriller by his agent. With a have-it-your-way desperation, Andy amalgamated all his notes and produced, The Hunt for Atlantis. A fantastical archaeological search for a mythical city with larger than life characters.

Oct 14 Andy McDermott_1632His agent loved it. The publishers loved it. Andy was offered a two-book deal. Celebrations over, he realised he had to write another action thriller using the same characters. So, he raked through his notes intent on finding some snippet that had not already been used. On a small note he found a scribble from Wikipedia that Hercules was the only demigod not to have been dedicated a tomb of his own. And thus book two, The Tomb of Hercules was born.

Andy was offered another two book deal, did the same thing and was offered another two book deal and so on until a five book deal was offered. Andy is now on book eleven of the series and his characters, Nina Wilde the adventurous archaeologist, her husband ex SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase show no sign of slowing down.

Andy was keen to stress that much of his deadline keeping success is his strict, self-imposed timetable. He sticks rigidly to the hours that he worked as a journalist. In the office and writing by 9.00 am. He starts writing his first draft and does not stop until it is finished. Then straight into a process of revisions. The book stays behind closed doors for a couple more drafts. Then it is sent to his editor. Her suggestions have shrunk to almost nothing as, over the years their trust in each other has grown.

Andy has had the same editor since The Hunt for Atlantis (he sincerely hoped someone would have found a better title. But they seemed to like that one) and they have built a good relationship. She is able to advise when Andy has provided too much technical detail, and when more is needed.

With regard to research, Andy spends anything from three to six months on planning. He delves deep into research. Often much of this does not make it into the story, only the answer that he was searching for in the first place. However, he pointed out that often it will come in handy in other parts of the book. With a little embellishment, a story can be ‘hung’ on a tiny detail.

Word count for Andy’s plan is often more than half that of the finished book. In stories like these, it is imperative that the characters remain pro-active. An action sequence needs almost as much planning as the whole book.

Andy is more than happy to accept that his books are an exhilarating mix of facts and flights of fantasy. With each new project, he asks himself – What is the overall story? What is the ‘McGiffin’ that Nina and Eddie will search for? What is the issue that will test their relationship? The answers are then fitted into the time-honoured format of an action thriller. The result is the white-knuckle thriller that keeps Nina and Eddie on their toes.

There is a strong business element to being a best-selling writer. A commercial publishing house will expect a novel that will appeal to the target audience. Andy will often find himself in marketing meetings in London.

When asked what he would write ‘just for fun’ Andy replied; Nina and Eddie stories!

However, one of the most exciting aspects for Andy was discussing the movie for the whole series with those described as Hot Fuzz.

Good luck Andy!

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